Contributing to Wikipedia: Through Content or Social Interaction?

Contributing to Wikipedia: Through Content or Social Interaction?

Asta Zelenkauskaite (Department of Telecommunications, Indiana University, Bloomington, USA) and Paolo Massa (IRST, Fondazione Bruno Kessler, Trento, Italy)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/jdst.2012100101
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While the overall amount of user contributions in various namespaces has been discussed in previous research, the question of how and where users contribute, depending on their time spent in Wikipedia, is still open. This study analyzed contribution patterns in three namespaces of 685,897 active users of English Wikipedia since its inception. User editing behaviors were analyzed according to the amount of time spent within Wikipedia where contributions in content-oriented spaces were compared with social-oriented namespaces.
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User contribution through user-generated content to online environments has grown considerably in recent years. Internet content creators in the United States constituted 41% of Internet users in 2008 and this number is expected to grow to 52% in 2013, while consumers of user-generated content among all Internet users is expected to increase from 60% to 70% (Verna, 2009). Despite a high degree of active contribution by users to online environments, the true success of online collaborative projects cannot be taken for granted and requires a constant number of motivated contributors who remain engaged throughout the entire project.

Empirical evidence shows that volunteer contributions, in particular, are inherently difficult to predict, plan and manage, especially in the case of large-scale projects (Robles et al., 2005). Persistence of contributions remains a big challenge that impacts the success of the projects (Farzan et al., 2011; Liao-Troth, 2008; Wightman, 2010). Moreover, it has been argued that success of open access projects depends not only on constant but also constructive user contributions (Hertel et al., 2003; Koch & Schneider, 2002).

Thus, user participation in online environments has been addressed in previous studies by studying active and passive participation patterns (Ebner & Holzinger, 2005), factors influencing community member expertise, retention and motivation (Choi et al., 2010; Farzan et al., 2011; Ifenthaler, 2010). Dedication and active participation has been contrasted to lurking activities in online communities (Ebner & Holzinger, 2005). User involvement and retention has been achieved through highlighting presence of the users within the community and strengthening ties with the community (Farzan et al., 2011). Feedback has also been tested as an important factor to reduce the differences between experts and novice users (Ifenthaler, 2010) and different socialization tactics have been tested with newcomers to Wikipedia in order to increase commitment and retention (Choi et al., 2010). User participation with different participation levels has been theorized in terms of legitimate peripheral participation (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Lave and Wenger (1991) described the mechanism of the theoretical framework known as legitimate peripheral participation (LPP) as a crucial part of learning in a community of practice where users start to contribute in a gradual ways. Initially, a member will participate in activities that are important (legitimate) to the community, but are perhaps not the central focus of that community’s practices. This model predicts differentiating user behavior based on their levels of experience within a specific community and sociotechnical system. The model has been proposed to create collaborative systems that would provide inclusive system for novices and expert users (Zagal & Bruckman, 2010).

The general motivation for the study is to shed light on user contribution patterns and their editing patterns in various namespaces1 based on the time spent on Wikipedia platform. This study aims to contribute to a better understanding of user contribution patterns in online environments. By providing a more fine-grained analysis of user participation patterns in online environments over their life span, the study provides theoretical and practical insights for the creation of online collaborative projects based on user contributions.

The article is organized as follows. The following section will provide an overview of the studies on user contributions within Wikipedia considering Wikipedia as a specific sociotechnical system; differences between novice and experienced user contributions will be presented followed by research questions. The method section will describe data and analytical procedures used in this study and will be followed by the results section. The paper ends with the discussion, implications, and conclusion section.

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